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Like other electronic items, televisions can attract dust and get marred by blemishes, such as children’s fingerprints. Fortunately, cleaning your flat-screen TV is a straightforward process that doesn’t require any pricey special chemicals.
Although the current TV market is dominated by superbright, big-screen LCD (LED) and OLED TVs, many of us still have older sets, including plasma TVs, which companies stopped manufacturing in 2014, and even CRTVs—also called tube TVs—which started disappearing around 2008.
If you’re cleaning an older tube TV, you have a bit more flexibility because its screen is made of glass and can be cleaned like other glass items in your household. In this—and only this—instance, it’s okay to use a window cleaner, such as Windex.
LCD TVs are far more sensitive and need to be cleaned carefully to keep the screens from getting scratched or damaged. Plasma TVs also have glass screens, but manufacturers often applied a sensitive anti-glare coating, so they should be treated like an LCD TV rather than a CRTV set.
For both OLED TVs and LCD sets, the advice is the same, and it’s simple: Clean with a soft, dry cloth to avoid scratching the screen.
In all cases, turn off the TV—or even unplug it—prior to cleaning, says Claudio Ciacci, who heads Consumer Reports’ TV testing program. “In addition to it being safer for the set, it’s usually easier to see dirt or finger smudges when the screen is dark,” he says. “It also gives the TV a chance to cool down.”
If you have any doubts about which type of TV you have, you can always consult the owner’s manual. Most manuals and manufacturer websites have instructions for the best way to clean their sets. Doing something the owner’s manual forbids is a good way to void your warranty.
Here are all our tips for cleaning your flat-screen TV.
Start With a Dry, Soft Cloth
Screens can scratch easily, and even paper towels or tissues contain fibers that can do damage. “Your best bet is to use a soft, anti-static microfiber cloth—the kind used to clean eyeglasses and camera lenses—and wipe in a circular motion,” says John Walsh, who cleans more than 250 TVs a year in his role as a CR photographer. (Sometimes TV manufacturers will include a cloth for this purpose.) “Gently wipe the screen with a dry cloth to remove dust and other debris, but don’t press too hard,” he says.
You may also want to wipe down the TV’s cabinet, and make sure dust isn’t clogging the vents that help dissipate heat. If the TV is on a stand and not tethered to the wall, Walsh suggests cleaning with one hand while supporting the TV with the other to prevent the set from tipping over. However, CR strongly recommends anchoring all stand-mounted TVs using anti-tipping straps designed for this purpose.
If there are hard-to-remove stains, you can dampen the cloth slightly with distilled water, and gently clean the screen. Don’t spray water directly onto the screen, which could cause a shock or component failure if it drips or seeps into the inner workings of the set.
For the most stubborn stains, you can try using a solution of very mild dish soap highly diluted with water, once again applied to the cloth and not to the TV itself. (As a guideline for how much soap to use, Panasonic used to recommend a 100:1 ratio of water to soap.) LCD screens, in particular, are very sensitive to pressure and can scratch easily, so don’t press too hard.
Walsh suggests that if you do use a dampened cloth, go over the screen one more time with a dry one to remove any swirls or streaks.
Avoid Harmful Chemicals
Alcohol and ammonia, found in window cleaners such as Windex, can wreak havoc on your expensive flat-screen TV, so don’t use cleaners that have them. If you decide to use a packaged “screen cleaner”—which you don’t really need (see below)—choose one that doesn’t contain alcohol, ammonia, or acetone. Also, don’t use any cleaners that contain an abrasive that can scratch the screen.
Skip the Cleaning Kit
Some stores charge $15 to $20 for a kit that includes just a microfiber cloth and a small bottle of cleaning solution—a solution that’s probably mostly water. Instead, buy the cloth at an office supply store or online and use distilled water, or a solution of your own making per our advice above. If you opt for a kit, make sure it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.
Don't Forget the Remote Control
Remote controls can not only get dusty but also harbor a fair number of germs. (Think of how many fingers have pressed the buttons on that remote recently and whether all of them have been squeaky clean. We won’t even get into the issue of coughs and sneezes.)
To be safe, it’s probably best to remove the batteries from the remote before you start cleaning. Then start by turning the remote upside down so that the buttons are facing downward, and tap the remote against your palm to dislodge any debris that might have fallen between the keys or buttons. Wipe down the entire remote with a soft cloth that has been sprayed with a tiny bit of alcohol diluted with water. Again, the cloth should be damp, not wet.
To clean in and around the buttons, you can use a cotton swab dampened with the alcohol/water mix. More stubborn debris lodged deeper into the keys can be dislodged with a dry toothbrush or wooden toothpick.
Last, wipe down the whole remote once again with a dry, soft cloth and reinstall the batteries. You should be good to go!
3 Great Big-Screen TV Bargains
While we’re on the subject of TVs, if you’re thinking of shopping for a new set, you can check CR’s TV ratings, which are available to members. We buy every set we rate at retail, just like a consumer would, then evaluate it using a rigorous testing protocol. Here are three sets that combine big screens and strong performance, and all at a price under $1,000.
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